* Swift leadership transition angers many party members
* Row adds to divisions within party ahead of coalition vote
* Party members vote on coalition deal; result due March 4
* A ‘no’ vote would likely prompt new election
By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Germany’s Social Democrats sank further into chaos on Tuesday as resistance grew to plans to appoint Andrea Nahles caretaker leader to help end a turbulent six days after the party agreed a coalition deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
Deeply divided over the coalition deal and the division of ministerial posts, and facing a slump in opinion polls, Social Democrat (SPD) leaders are trying to convince 464,000 party members to back the deal in a ballot on which Merkel’s fourth term hangs.
With many SPD rank and file harbouring misgivings about sharing power with Merkel again, the result of the vote, due on March 4, is wide open. If members vote ‘no’ to the coalition deal, a new election looks the most likely option.
The most urgent matter for the SPD is to get a new leader in place after Martin Schulz said last week he would quit to allow the party to regroup.
The frontrunner is Nahles, a plain-speaking 47-year-old former labour minister with a left-wing slant and strong oratory skills, but the manner in which Schulz appeared to anoint her angered many members.
In particular, plans for her to take over with immediate effect on a caretaker basis until a party conference expected in March has led to resistance as it breaches party procedure.
The SPD steering committee and board meet later on Tuesday to decide on a temporary successor to Schulz and some members have complained it looks like a stitch-up.
The mayor of the northern city of Flensburg, Simone Lange, said she would stand against Nahles. The post was “of great importance for the whole party and the whole country and should not be decided by a small internal group,” wrote Lange, according to her letter widely cited by German media.
The Berlin branch of the SPD also opposes Nahles’ appointment as caretaker leader.
Other senior party members back Nahles and urged the party to put its house in order quickly.
“Every one of us would be well advised to put the interests of the party and country above personal ambition. End the lack of discipline in the SPD!” one of the party’s deputy leaders, Ralf Stegner, told the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung.
In a cartoon on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail.
Schulz ditched plans to take the post of foreign minister after fierce criticism from some former allies, not least because he had vowed not to serve in a cabinet with Merkel.
That leaves open who from within the SPD may take up that post. Media have speculated that one option might be Katarina Barley, a former SPD general secretary and family minister, or SPD veteran Thomas Oppermann.
Europe’s biggest economy has been without a formal government since the Sept. 24 election and investors are worried about a delay in policymaking, both at home and in Europe.
The turmoil in the SPD can only distract from criticism of Merkel from within her own party after she handed the foreign and finance ministries to the SPD to get a coalition deal.
An INSA poll published on Tuesday showed the SPD at a record low of 16.5 percent, only 1.5 percentage points ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Merkel’s conservative bloc was also down 1 point at 29.5 percent. (Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Janet Lawrence)